There’s a certain category of shows that manage to be good not because of, but in SPITE of it’s main character. How I Met Your Mother (ugh, Ted), The Walking Dead (blech, Rick), Orange Is the New Black (says YOU, I like Piper and I don’t care who knows it): these are shows that we watch in spite of their super boring lead characters. New Girl has, for most of its run, been right at the top of that list. Sure, Jess has had some good prat falls, and when she and Nick were their best, her story lines were fantastic. But Elizabeth Meriwether and the rest of the New Girl team just don’t seem to know what to do with her on her own.
Last week’s episode, “Dice,” was particularly hard on Jess, reducing her to that season one version of herself who’s incapable of functioning in everyday society. Her entire storyline— the “A” storyline, mind you— focused entirely on Schmidt teaching her how to date, as if that exact premise hasn’t come up once or twice a season already. The entire plot was totally overshadowed by the “B” plot, which was glorious in its sitcom simplicity: Cece, Coach and Nick get stoned, then find themselves at Winston’s friends’ cop party. Held up against such a basic concept, Jess’ flat story was even more glaringly boring.
But something changed in last night’s episode. Jess, completely out of nowhere, was in top form. To be fair, the B plot was weak, by any comparison. (Seriously, Schmidt, who doesn’t realize immediately that the best way to sell dudes cleaning supplies is to bring the chance of sex into it?) But even without that low bar to clear, Jess did well. The story of “Julie Berkman’s Older Sister” shows Jess meeting her father’s new girlfriend, who turns out to be her nemesis from high school. Though while “Trashly” Berkman may have “sexually intercoursed” Jess’ high school boyfriend under the bleachers, while Jess watched from said bleachers (“Have you ever seen sex from above? It’s horrible. That’s why God thinks it’s a sin”), Jess wasn’t even on Ashley’s radar. Jess, therefore, is hit with conflicting desires, both to respect her dad’s choices and simultaneously unleash a shit fit bonanza on her one-way nemesis. It’s a great premise, executed perfectly. And yes, the guest stars of Rob Reiner and Kaitlin Olson (both spectacular) were big bumps, but even just looking at Jess, this episode was a huge step forward for her character. This is due, in large part, to two big moves. Neither of which, it should be noted, is Zooey Deschanel clearly phasing out the bangs.
1. The episode did not center around Jess trying to learn some basic human function. It didn’t show her as an inept ladychild; instead, we got to see the Jess who can so expertly lead a round of True American. This is the Jess that gets shit done.
Finally, Jess was back with a focus, and with a clear goal. This is the Jess we need more of. Because watching Nick, a 30-something man flat out refuse adulthood and shove his bills in a box in the back of his closet (cause mo’ money, mo’ problems, amirite?) is hilarious. Watching a 30-something woman who WANTS to be a stable adult not know how to wear sexy underwear properly usually comes off more pathetic than humorously endearing (probably what they were going for). Give us a Jess who is trying to DO things, not just one who is learning (and inexplicably failing) to be a human being.
2. The show finally remembered that Jess and Cece are friends. Remember when they used to be friends? When they used to have conversations about their feelings and not just stand in a group of guys, not talking to each other? For a pair of best friends, these two haven’t had a decent conversation since Cece’s non-wedding. (Most likely because the writers didn’t know how to deal with Schmidt RUINING EVERYTHING FOREVER.) But it wasn’t always that way. These two used to have a bond that was distinct from every other relationship on the show.
The relationship between Jess and Cece has been sorely missing from the show lately. There is a solid history and strong chemistry there that just hasn’t been present. By putting Cece back at Jess’ side, supporting her, egging her on, giving her someone to play off of that isn’t Nick or Schmidt, Jess was finally interesting again. Now we’re just left to wonder how long this new Jess can last. Ideally, we’ve found a new path for her character, a woman who can carry a story line on her own. More likely, though, this was a fluke, and next week she’ll be back to trying to learn how to bathe and dress herself.
Well, it was nice while it lasted.
Vivian Kane definitely had to Google “tagine.”